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Virgin CEO Hrdlicka wants ‘flexibility’ in airport slots

written by Jake Nelson | June 7, 2023

Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka at the IATA 2023 AGM in Istanbul. (Image: IATA)

Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka has called for “continued flexibility” in the slots system as the aviation industry recovers from the pandemic, amid an outcry in Australia’s domestic sector that slots are unfairly stacked in favour of the big players.

In an interview at IATA’s annual general meeting in Istanbul, Hrdlicka said that while slots are “mostly OK”, the current arrangement is making it difficult for airlines to juggle unexpected events as the industry returns to normal.

“It’s adding a lot of complexity as we move through these ups and downs in renormalising as an industry,” she said.

“We’re having to make sure that we can hang on to our slots but also manage the ups and downs associated with absenteeism and higher attrition levels and weather patterns and all sorts of things, which are making a little bit more difficult to get back to normal.

“So it’s working OK, you know, we would hope for continued flexibility for a little while because we’re just not back in a normalised period yet, but the slot programs are behaving as if we are.”


Airport slots have come into focus this week, particularly at Sydney Airport, with the ACCC saying larger carriers like Qantas and Virgin are able to “exploit” the current rules around take-off slots to stop smaller carriers from competing with them at peak times – a stance Sydney Airport itself has agreed with.

A slot is a literal time slot that allows an airline to take off at a specific airport at a particular time. The rules state that if an airline holds a slot, it can keep it to itself, but only if the business uses it for 80 per cent of the time.

Those rules were hugely relaxed during COVID-19 as lockdowns and border closures caused hundreds of cancellations, but have also been criticised by both Rex and Bonza as stifling their ability to run services at the most popular times.

Rex in particular has accused Qantas of “hoarding” prime slots at Sydney Airport and leaving smaller carriers with the “crumbs” of less popular times, while Bonza CEO Tim Jordan has labelled Sydney Airport’s slot system as the “biggest singular issue” facing Australia’s domestic aviation market.

In the IATA interview, Hrdlicka also alluded to the difficulties Virgin has been experiencing with deliveries of new aircraft such as its delayed Boeing 737 MAX 8s, saying supply chain problems are a “fundamental problem” for Virgin.

“We’re depending on new aircraft coming in, it’s taking longer than we expected. There are issues with equipment and parts. And that’s changing the cycle of engine times. And there are a cascade of things which are as a result of aircraft not flying for a long period of time, and supply chain has been shut down, effectively,” she said.

“So it’s a big deal for us. We’re all just working together as best we can. Because together, we’ll get through this and recreate the delicate balance that we enjoyed pre-pandemic in the way our supply chain works across the industry.”

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Comment (1)

  • “Slot times” are not a new problem and are not only associated with Oz airports; compared with some airports around the world here in Oz, we don’t have a problem but from my experience we do have a problem with some people that manage them. No doubt a flow chart will identify the limitations of movements but they don’t go anywhere near the needs for practicality neither do they consider the ability/s and practicality of some people exercising them. It is a cold hard fact of life that in commercial aviation, in particular, sometimes the plan can’t and won’t work for many and varied valid reasons and that is why we need flexibility, knowledge and understanding of what we are about and actually doing to accommodate and manage the slot problem to the benefit of all and not to some incumbent occupying and non airline supervisory role who has no direct requirement to defend his/her decisions affecting the customers paying for the service/dis-service. At the moment we have airlines, the ACCC, Air Services etal all blaming each other whilst it appears no-one is addressing the fix to the problem. The Boss Lady is right, practical and knowledgeable flexibility is the answer; it doesn’t matter how much bigger or how many new facilities are introduced, in our industry if you don’t have knowledge, flexibility and the willingness to solve the problem then maybe one should look to a more relaxing occupation where less if any top performance requirements are required; – I could name a few but it is probably best if I exit now.

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